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Project manager Stacy and Witbeck Inc.
— by Julie Sneider, senior associate editor
Keith Tarkalson grew up in the small town of Salmon, Idaho, on a 2,500-acre cattle ranch, far from any major railroad line.
Although he pursued civil engineering studies at the University of Idaho, he knew early on that he "didn't want to be a designer and sit at a computer all day," Tarkalson says. Growing up on a ranch gave him an appreciation for working outdoors, so a career in construction seemed to be the better fit.
Shortly before he graduated from college, Tarkalson met representatives of Stacy and Witbeck Inc. at a career fair. The meeting was a turning point for him. He learned about the firm's work in the rail industry, was offered an internship and took it.
"I never looked back," Tarkalson says. "Stacy Witbeck does a lot of mass transit work, which brings something important to the community, such as getting cars off the roads and making it easier for people to get around. I found that to be intriguing."
After graduation in January 2004, Tarkalson landed a full-time position as a field engineer in the firm's regional office in Portland, Ore. Next, he was transferred to Salt Lake City to work on the Utah Transit Authority's 89-mile FrontRunner commuter-rail project, and eventually was promoted to construction manager for the FrontRunner South segment. From there, he became project manager for the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit's (SMART) commuter-rail construction project in Northern California, where he works today.
Both the FrontRunner and SMART projects required close coordination with Class I and short-line railroads. Patricia Darnell, a Stacy and Witbeck colleague, praises Tarkalson for his communication and leadership skills.
“Keith is an outstanding communicator, and his ability to understand issues and consistently deliver his message in a thoughtful, fair and honest manner gains the trust and respect of everyone both within and outside the organization," Darnell wrote in nominating Tarkalson for the Rising Stars award. "The success that Keith has enjoyed during his career is clearly driven by his unique ability to lead and gain broad consensus."
Tarkalson enthusiastically endorses the rail industry as a great place for young college graduates to establish careers.
"There has never been a greater need for a qualified workforce at all levels of this industry, and that need continues to grow," Tarkalson says. "It's not just a profession, it ends up being like family."
Other Tarkalson facts:
• The Associated General Contractors (AGC) of Utah named him Highway Superintendent of the Year in 2011.
• When Tarkalson was a baby, his parents owned a pet badger. "Whenever visitors were at the house, the badger would not let them get near me. My mother claims that I grew up with the same tenacious attitude as that badger."
• His five-year goal? "I wish I were that strategic. I live in the moment, as I strive to make a difference as a husband, father, friend, co-worker, employee, mentor and a member of the community. The beautiful thing is, that has always worked for me."
Rising Stars 2015 Award Winners:
Francois Belanger, CN
Todd Blaylock, HNTB Corp.
Jonathan Chastek, Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway Co.
Oliver Dolder, Railtech Welding & Equipment
John Riley Edwards, RailTEC, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Stefan Loeb, Watco Cos. LLC
Jessica Moore, Union Pacific Railroad
Amanda Nightingale, King County Metro Transit
Celia Ann Pfleckl, Amtrak
Charles Rennick, Providence & Worcester Railroad Co.
Kaleigh Reyes, GE Transportation
Rebecca Reyes-Alicea, Federal Railroad Administration
Bruno Riendeau, VIA Rail Canada Inc.
Curtis Shogren, CSX Transportation
Alanna Strohecker, AECOM
Keith Tarkalson, Stacy & Witbeck
Brett Urquhart, Rocla Concrete Tie Inc.
Tara Vesey, Dakota Gasification Co.
Lexie Walker, Metra
Adam Weiskittel, BNSF Railway Co.